Heading off to climb two African mountains felt like a huge challenge, though mostly of the mind, as I felt confident that (minus potential altitude issues) I could cope with the physical challenge.
Mount Meru is the 5th highest mountain range in Africa, but was every bit just as challenging as Kilimanjaro which I would climb later. The walk takes 4 days to complete and as it is in the Arusha National Park all groups also require a park ranger (complete with rifle) as well as a guide and the team of porters.
I would definitely recommend this mountain to anyone who truly loves walking and is keen to do more than just Kilimanjaro. The walk is not difficult but the final night’s ascent is scrambly and much more technically challenging that what you will encounter on Kilimanjaro. So thankfully its not at the same altitude!
We started the walk at Momella Gate.
The first day’s walk meanders through the forest, passing by plenty of monkeys and birds as it ascends up to the Mirikamba Huts at 2514m.
It also passed through the large Fig tree arch en route which was a good place to stop for lunch.
Miriakamba huts were bigger than I imagined and I felt very lucky to be given a room to myself (being the only single female in our group and Meru being a relatively quiet mountain in comparison to Kilimanjaro). As this was the first night I’d slept at this altitude in a while I did wake in the early hours listening to the bloody rushing through my head. It wasn’t uncomfortable only unexpected.
Its worth getting up for sunrise on the first morning to see the sun rise behind Kilimanjaro and light up the rocks of Meru.
From the Miriakamba huts, the second day is a much steeper ascent up to Saddle huts at 3566m following the edge of the crater, so its great that all walking is ‘pole-pole’ (slowly slowly) so there’s not as much need for regular stops and no chance of breaking a sweat from walking too fast.
As this isn’t a particularly long walk we arrived at Saddle huts at lunch time, leaving time in the afternoon to climb Little Meru to acclimatise to the altitude. This was only a 2 hour round trip but worth it for the views across Tanzania but also to be able to see the challenge to come.
The ascent day started at 1.10am with a very slow walk in the dark heading up to our first checkpoint of Rhino Point, which took until 2.45am. We had a very short break before continuing on, the wind was strong and blowing volcanic dust everywhere making it hard to see.
The route from Rhino Point is quite scrambly, traversing around rocks and slowing picking through them to find a route up. In the daylight it is clear that the way is marked by rocks painted green, but in the dark you simply follow the feet in front.
The route is also deceptive and has numerous false summits, (including Cobra Point which from the bottom looks like the summit), before you reach the true summit of Socialist peak at 4565m. We all did fine with the altitude; I only suffered minor headaches and feeling a bit out of breath. (I also don’t recommend blowing your nose too hard above 4000m if you don’t want a nose bleed – no matter how much volcanic dust is up there).
After photos and a sugary cup of tea we picked our way back down through the rocks back to Saddle huts. Surprisingly the descent was slow due to the terrain and the very strong wind making it difficult to breath and see.
After a hot lunch and a short sleep we packed up and spent the afternoon descending back to Miriakamba huts. We were all grateful for sleep that night after a very long day walking.
The following day’s descent back to Momella gate was great as we took the shorter more direct route which the porters use to ascend. This meant that we also got to see the Tululisia waterfall and plenty of giraffes and buffalo. We arrived back at the Momella gate for lunch time.